Our oldest brother, the one in age between Mark and me, is building a boat. A Big Boat. For years he has believed that when this boat is finished and he's living on it, all will be well. He'll have peace finally and control over his life and the accomplishment of his life's dream. He's the only one in the family who isn't concerned about how he's going to handle the disappointment when he discovers that he followed himself onto the boat.
Our youngest brother has moved a certain Camaro from house to house to house for years. It doesn't run and he can never quite afford to fix it, but he keeps saving and hoping and hauling the body and its parts with him wherever he goes. This car is a relic from a younger, freer, wilder time. A tie to a happier past that promises happiness in some uncalendared future.
When I asked Mark what his Once-I-Get-There thing was, he hesitated only a moment before declaring his career had been. He achieved the top of his career, then lost it, and so has had the rare opportunity to learn that Getting There doesn't get you what you think it will.
Even before Mark asked, I knew what my answer would be. My weight. Once I'm Thin Enough Everything Will Be Fine. Thin will bring happiness, success, peace. Never mind that I have been thin(ner) and it didn't change much besides the size of my clothes. I still saw the same person I see in the mirror when I'm not thin(ner). And if anything, the inside darkness grew as the weight fell away instead of diminishing.
This week I've realized that my Once-I-Get-There-Thing holds much less power over me than the Possibility of Leaving. Because from the age of eleven when life became inescapable hell I've believed that in order to be happy, at peace, and free, I had to leave. I didn't realize until this winter that it was in my blood, my lineage - the leaving thing.
I come from a long line of leavers. Pack up your bags and walk out the door leavers. Kill yourself leavers. Drink yourself to death leavers. Escape into madness leavers.
I have to leave to be happy. A simple message that plays subliminally throughout my being like an advertisement convincing me that a certain product will change my life forever.
When I left the cult, which I actually needed to do to survive, I was determined never to leave anything again. I was not going to be a perpetual quitter. I was going to prove to God that I was a serious, stable, committed adult.
And so I anchored myself. In a marriage to a man who loved me and who wanted nothing more than to be a quiet family together. In a career that shouted respectability and security. In a persona that tried hard to be proper and impeccably clean. With beautiful Golden Retrievers and multitudes of cats and hobbies my mother would have approved of.
But there has always been a longing to be somewhere else. I live with one foot out the door, ready to carry me to safety when the pain gets too bad. My favorite escape is the possibility of getting in my car and driving to freedom - away from the loneliness and pain and grief that greet me each morning like old friends. New Mexico, Maine, Canada. Fresh start. No baggage. Adrenaline high.
I know better. I've known better for a very long time. What I didn't know until yesterday was how deeply that belief has impacted my life.
I have to leave to be happy. It's a lie. But oh, what a pretty lie.
What I know also is that by hanging on to the possibility of leaving, I've managed to avoid feeling most of the pain that that eleven year old girl stuffed away so that she could survive her inescapable hell. I've managed to avoid feeling the pain and disappointments of a marriage struggling to keep up with twenty years of change. I've stayed safe (mostly) from the frustration and powerlessness of working in a rigidly sick system that has no room for creativity or spiritual growth.
Leaving, the hope of leaving and the illusion of leaving - none of them have worked. They are not going to work. I am finally willing to say goodbye to them. To thank them for keeping me safe and alive. But to release them so that I can embrace here, now, myself.
I choose to stay.